“African Penguin Chick Hatches at Lincoln Park Zoo”

Lincoln Park Zoo’s colony of endangered African penguins grew by one member when a chick hatched on Tuesday, November 26, 2019.[1] After a forty-day-long incubation period, the chick hatched at the Robert & Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove.  The Lincoln Park Zoo (L.P.Z.) participates in the African Penguin Species Survival Plan® (S.S.P.), a collective population management program carried out by various institutions under the auspices of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (A.Z.A.).  After a wellness examination, veterinary staff deemed the chick to be healthy, but had not yet determined his or her sex as of (the publication of the press release on the World Wide Web on) Thursday, December 19, 2019.  

The chick’s father is T.J. and the mother is Sunny.  T.J. hatched on September 20, 2008.  Sunny hatched on March 29, 2006.[2]  This is the fourth African penguin chick to hatch and be reared at the Robert & Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove, which opened in 2016 thanks to “The Pride of Chicago” capital campaign

“Our keepers are constantly monitoring both the parents and the chick to ensure that the parents are meeting the chick’s needs as it reaches developmental milestones,” stated Sunny Nelson, the Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds at the L.P.Z.  “Both Sunny and TJ are performing parental duties as expected, sharing brooding and feeding responsibilities.”

The chick has to surpass several milestones before he or she will make his or her way out into the exhibit with the rest of the African penguins in the colony.  African penguin chicks typically fledge – leave the nest – seventy to eighty days after hatching.  Thus, it will likely happen in February.  Thereafter, the chick will retain his or her downy feathers until molting into waterproof juvenile plumage.  At or two years of age, African penguins molt into the tuxedo-like adult plumage the public knows and loves.

The chick that hatched at the Robert & Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove is the latest of several animal babies to arrive at the Lincoln Park Zoo in 2019.  Western lowland gorillas Mondika (born to Rollie) and Djeke (born to Bana) were born in the spring and named in July, as I wrote about earlier last year.  They can now be seen riding on the backs of their mothers at the Regenstein Center for African Apes.  A snowy owl chick that hatched this year can be seen in Regenstein Birds of Prey.  Romeo, an eastern black rhinoceros, is now six months old and can be seen exploring the yard at Regenstein African Journey under the eye of his mother, Kapuki.  Polar bears Siku and Talini have yet to procreate, but the L.P.Z. is optimistic that 2020 will be the year we see a new cub at Walter Family Arctic Tundra.

Figure 1 Credit: Chris Bijalba, Lincoln Park Zoo Caption: Chris Bijalba took this picture of the new African penguin chick being gingerly handled by veterinary staff on Friday, December 6, 2019.

Figure 2 Credit: Chris Bijalba, Lincoln Park Zoo Caption: Chris Bijalba took this picture of the new African penguin chick on Friday, December 6, 2019.

Figure 3 Credit: Chris Bijalba, Lincoln Park Zoo Caption: Chris Bijalba took this picture of the new African penguin chick on Friday, December 6, 2019.

The L.P.Z. works closely with the A.Z.A.’s Saving Animals From Extinction (S.A.F.E.) program, which focuses the collective expertise of A.Z.A.-accredited facilities to save endangered species.  The African penguin is a species covered by S.A.F.E. due to the precipitous decline the species has faced in the wild.  There were 141,000 breeding pairs in the wild in 1956 and now there are fewer than 20,000.  The L.P.Z. considers the African penguin colony at the Robert & Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove to be “ambassadors” for their species, “teaching guests about the plight of this species in the wild due to human wildlife conflict.”

Facts about African Penguins

Also known as black-footed penguins because of the color of their feet, African penguins are also identifiable because they have pink coloration around their eyes and black breast-band and belly markings.  Juvenile African penguins have gray-blue feathers that darken over the course of three years.  A mature African penguin has black and white feathers.  A horseshoe-shaped band of white feathers around the side of its head and chin and a black band of feathers aching over its chest.  Aside from that band of black feathers, the underside is mostly white.

Zoologists call the black-and-white plumage of African penguins “countershading.”  It is natural camouflage that allows them to evade bigger predators that would eat them while they hunt for prey themselves.  Dark feathers on their backs are difficult to see from above when they are underwater, while pale undersides make them blend in with the lighter ocean surface when seen from below.

The L.P.Z. stated, “African penguins have patches of exposed skin near their eyes.  Blood cools as it circulates through this area.  On hot days, more blood circulates and the patch becomes pinker.  They also have special muscles that push their feathers outward, releasing trapped heat.”

The adults in a colony do not all breed simultaneously.  Consequently, at any given time, colonies include eggs and chicks across a range of developmental stages.  It is common for a pair of mating penguins to remain a couple for years.  On average, a mother will lay two eggs.  The incubation period is around forty days.  Both parents participate equally in incubation duties.  Parents guard chicks until about thirty days have passed since they hatched.  Subsequently, both parents can forage at sea at the same time.  Chicks that are left undefended by their parents form crèches – not to be confused with a crèche in the sense of a Nativity scene – so other adults can defend them from predators.  Chicks hedge from 60 to 130 days of age.  Juveniles leave their natal colonies from twelve to twenty-two months, and then return to molt into adult plumage.

The only species of penguin to breed on the continent of Africa, black-footed penguins inhabit a range of the west coast of Africa along the South Atlantic from South Africa to Namibia. For the most part, they reside in large colonies on small islands off the coast of Africa.  There are also three protected beach sites where they reside: two in South Africa and one in Namibia.  African penguins both breed and nest in burrows, rock crevices, and shrubs on rocky and sandy shorelines of offshore islands and beaches.

They are also known as Cape penguins and jackass penguins.  The Latin name for this species is Spheniscus demersus.  African penguins belong to the order Sphenisciformes.

They are a diminutive species of penguin.  A mature African penguin ranges in height from eighteen inches up to two feet tall (or even a few inches higher).  The average weight for an African penguin is seven pounds.  A large specimen weighs eight or nine pounds.

In regard to sexual dimorphism, the males are slightly larger than the females and have heavier bills.  As with all species of penguin, their wings have evolved into flippers.  They have heavy, solid bones; webbed feet; and dense feathers that overlap.

African penguins propel themselves through the water with their wings and use their webbed feet and tails as rudders to steer left and right.  Thanks to having dense bones (unlike birds that can fly), they use less energy when diving to hunt prey.  Stiff spines that point backwards to grip prey and move prey along cover the tongues and palates of African penguins.

In terms of diet and the niche they fill in the ecosystem, African penguins prey on anchovies, sardines, and other small, shoaling fish they find in the Benguela Current.[3] Squids and crustaceans are also prey animals for African penguins. 

Both humans and African penguins find the Benguela Current to be nutrient-rich, but commercial fishing has diminished the populations of sea creatures African penguins prey upon.  Oil spills have also had a deleterious impact on their population.  In addition, egg collection and removal of guano (which makes for an effective fertilizer, but they use for nest burrows) have contributed to the decline of the species.

The Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is located in the middle of the Chicago Park District’s vast Lincoln Park on the lakeshore of Lake Michigan on the North Side of Chicago.  It is privately managed by the Lincoln Park Zoological Society, a non-profit organization. 

More than 85% of the Lincoln Park Zoo’s capital and operating costs are covered by contributions from visitors, members, and donors.  If you would like to pay for the new chick, you can click here to sign up for the African penguin A.D.O.P.T. (“Animals Depend on People Too!”) package.  A.D.O.P.T. packages range from $40 to $150.  The most expensive package includes a photograph of an animal, a fact sheet, a plush (stuffed animal), and two spaces at the Malott Family Penguin Encounter in 2020 (April-October).

The Lincoln Park Zoo traces its origins to the donation of swans by Central Park in New York City in 1868, so the L.P.Z. celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2018.  It is both one of the last free zoos in America and one of the largest free zoos in America.  Normally, it is open every day of the year. 

Approximately 200 animal species are represented at the zoo.  The address is 2001 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 60614.  The phone number is (312) 742-2000.


[1] African penguins are suffering a decline in numbers due to competition for prey animals from commercial fishing.

[2] Sunny, the chick’s mother, is the fourth-eldest penguin in the colony after Maynard, who hatched on March 15, 2004; Marla, who hatched on March 14, 2005; and Liam, who hatched on November 23, 2006.

[3] The Benguela Current is a cold ocean current that flows in a northerly direction, following the southwestern coast of Africa.

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